Time of Death (Tom Thorne) - Mark Billingham

If you're already a fan of this series, you greet each book with certain expectations. First, it's a chance to catch up with Tom Thorne & Phil Hendricks. Then you look forward to a smart, twisty suspense story, intricate plots, economical dialogue & a hair raising finale. Book #13 ticks all the boxes.

This is more of a slow burn than the last instalment (which left me only slightly less traumatized than Tom & Phil). When Thorne's partner Helen goes home to support a childhood friend, he tags along. There's a serious criminal investigation underway involving the friend's husband & Tom has no jurisdiction. But every instinct tells him the local cops have the wrong guy & with nothing but time on his hands, he starts to nose around. 

The first half is devoted to setting up the characters & their stories. We learn the background of the crime & meet the locals. There's a strong sense of what it's like to live in a small town where everyone knows your business & memories are long. People support their neighbours in tough times. But when two young girls go missing & a resident is charged, that support can morph into a mob mentality.

And something is up with Helen. She's either withdrawn or spoiling for a fight, leaving Tom baffled as to the cause of her behaviour. Narrators alternate from one chapter to the next so we get varied points of review on events. Those told in the voices of the perpetrator & one of his victims are particularly chilling.

Tom has some theories but with Helen busy & distracted, he needs a brain to bounce them off. Enter Phil. My favourite tatted, pierced, gay pathologist arrives in town & it's game on from there. They're a formidable team & as they dig deeper, the pages begin to fly by as we follow them through this intricately plotted & creepy tale.

It's thinking man's thriller full of clever misdirection. There's a blizzard of red herrings to wade through & you're in danger of sustaining whiplash as your focus swings from one suspect to the next. Events & comments that seem unimportant are tossed out along the way but will have you snacking your forehead at the end. It's been a long time since I was so surprised to learn a killer's identity.

The case is duly solved & you get the sense that working together has helped Tom & Phil move past some of the psychological trauma that lingers from their last adventure. There are also hints Tom's personal life may undergo some change. It's the kind of read that makes you lose track of time & frown on any interruptions so don't crack the cover until you find a spot to hide for a few hours.

That's the good news. The bad...now begins the looong wait for #14.